BCBAs Respond To The Dog Trainer Who Called Out ABA48 min read

Earlier this year, we published an article which shook the autism world – “Is Aba Really Dog Training For Children?  A Professional Dog Trainer Weighs In.”

Contributor Carol Millman has a B.Sc in Psychology, a diploma in Animal Health Technology from the University of Guelph, and is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer as well as being certified AnimalKind by the SPCA.

In her April article, she discussed ABA, particularly the way it is managed and regulated, and how it compares to the ethics and attitudes among professional dog training bodies who also employ conditioning and behaviour modification in their work with animals.

You can read the original here.

Below you will be able to read a letter, published in full at their specific request, by Dr.  Thomas Zane and Katie Gorycki.

Carol Millman has inserted her own replies within the document, also with permission from the letter-writers.

picture of a puppy and a small boy looking at each other.  Licensed through Can Stock Photo Inc.  / oksun70

Response to Millman’s article:

“Is ABA Really “Dog Training for Children”?  A Professional Dog Trainer Weighs In.”

Katie Gorycki and Thomas Zane

            Recently, the article “Is ABA Really “Dog Training for Children”?  A Professional Dog Trainer Weighs In” by Carol Millman was posted on The Aspergian, a site in which authors catalog experiences, insights, knowledge, talents, and creative pursuits of “autistics.” Millman’s article triggered numerous comments and responses, such as the article “ABA Is Not “Dog Training for Children.” –A Behavior Analyst Weighs In.” by Amanda Pakutz.  Pakutz discussed noteworthy topics in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), such as radical behaviorism, the seven dimensions of ABA, and the code of ethics. 

Yes, I read and responded to Ms.  Pakutz at the time.  I found it odd that she often cited as proof the very same facts that I, too, had cited in my critique.

For example, she says:

Millman writes, “I don’t believe ABA focuses on the emotional needs of autistic children.” Correct, it does not.

ABA does not employ interventions based on any person’s perceived emotions.  Practitioners of ABA focus on empirically based behavioral observations in different physical environments.

Amanda Pakutz, ABA is not Dog Training For Children – A Behaviour Analyst Weighs In

She also links to the same compliance code that I linked to.

Then she says:

Millman contorts the compliance code later with equivocation fallacies.  She generalizes that because the code does not include “positive” and “humane,” behaviourism on a human being — especially a child — can easily venture into the realm of emotional and physical abuse.  The BCBA compliance code clearly states the following:

Behavior analysts have a responsibility to operate in the best interest of clients.  The term client as used here is broadly applicable to whomever behavior analysts provide services, whether an individual person (service recipient), a parent or guardian of a service recipient, an organizational representative, a public or private organization, a firm, or a corporation.

– Amanda Pakutz, ABA is Not Dog Training For Children – A Behaviour Analyst Weighs In

I can’t understand how saying that the compliance code does not differentiate between a child and a corporation proves that it protects against emotional and physical abuse.

If anything, this is one of the aspects of the code that I roundly criticized as imprecise and full of convenient loopholes.  Quoting one section that provides those loopholes won’t convince me that the loopholes do not exist.

It seems Ms Pakutz and I agree on the facts and she just disagrees with the conclusion I drew from them.

We are behavior analysts (like Ms.  Pakutz), and we support her position.  We hope our response to Millman’s article will further clarify some misinformation and any confusion regarding ABA services.  Additionally, we will explain how the two fields share similar values.

Oh, good.

A major topic in Millman’s article was on the wellbeing of individuals and how ABA does not account for this.  However, like Millman, our field of behavior analysis would agree that a primary goal is to protect the wellbeing of individuals. 

Then I’m sure you’ll be seeking to improve the compliance code to better meet your goal.

Millman’s interpretation of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s (BACB) code of ethics for the wellbeing of the individual needs some tweaking.  For instance, Millman stated that the BACB does not contain any information about the welfare of the therapy’s recipients and that “only three subsections in the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s professional code of ethics even address the wellbeing of the learner.”

That’s correct.

Specifically, I said, “while it goes into great detail regarding what certificants may do regarding the business aspect of things, right down to detailed guidelines on what you can do and say in the media, there is virtually nothing about the welfare of the therapy’s recipients.”

I contrasted it with the ethics code of the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers, which lays out clear guidelines about which methods should be tried first, and in exactly what order, starting with ensuring the dog’s physical and emotional needs are met.

I claimed that the ABA ethics code does not prohibit abusive techniques, and does not require informed consent from the learner.

Please, tell me where I went wrong.

However, the behavior analyst’s primary endeavor is to improve the lives of others.  Specifically, the code was developed to protect the wellbeing of the learner, which includes several areas within the code, such as code 1.0 (responsible conduct of behavior analysts). 

Items relating to client within this code include: 1.02(a,b) (boundaries of competence), 1.03 (maintaining competence through professional development, 1.04(a-e) (integrity), 1.05(a-f) (professional and scientific relationships, 1.06(a-d) (multiple relationships and conflicts of interest), and 1.07 (a-d) (exploitative relationships). 

Great, let’s start there.

As you say, code 1.0 involves professional standards, such as not doing things you aren’t trained to do, ensuring you get continuing education, avoiding conflicts of interests, etc.

Under this section of the code, an ABA therapist could not discriminate based on age, sex, race etc.  They cannot accept gifts from or have sex with their clients.

All very important.

But I don’t see how any of that ensures that the therapist doesn’t emotionally or physically abuse the child.

For example, if the person is trained in administering electrical shocks as an aversive, follows accepted protocols, and gets continuing education and avoids conflicts of interest, they can continue to apply electrical shocks to the learner so long as they don’t accept presents from them or molest them.

Furthermore, code 2.0 (behavior analysts’ responsibility to clients), is specifically devoted to the welfare of the client.  Subsections 2.01 (accepting clients), 2.02 (responsibility), 2.03(a,b) consultation, 2.04(a-d) (third-party involvement in services, 2.05(a-e) (rights and prerogatives of clients), 2.06(a-e) (maintaining confidentiality), 2.07(a,b) (maintaining records), 2.08 (disclosures), 2.09(a-d) (treatment/intervention efficacy), 2.10(a,b) (documenting professional work and research), 2.11(a,b) (records and data), 2.12(a-d) (contracts, fees, and financial arrangements), 2.13 (accuracy in billing reports), 2.14 (referrals and fees), and 2.15(a-e) (interrupting or discontinuing services) all focus on the learner. 

First of all, I don’t see how Section 2.0 is dedicated to the wellbeing of the learner considering that this section opens by reminding us that “client” can mean the employer, not necessarily the learner.

Under the section on responsibility, the code says that if multiple people could be considered the client, the behavior analyst gets to pick who they think the “ultimate beneficiary of services is.”

Now, if the child melts down in grocery stores and the goal is to get the child to be quiet so mama can do her shopping, I would argue that the beneficiary is not the child, who still has to go to the loud, busy, overwhelming grocery store, but the mother, whose life has been made so much easier.

In my work, the beneficiary of my training is very often the owner, not the dog.  The dog is quite happy stealing food off of tables and running amok on the trails.  I could argue that I’m saving the dog from being rehomed, but I’m sure the dog wouldn’t see it that way.

It’s not the dog’s fault that it’s acting like a dog and its owners don’t know how to handle that.  I do my job for my clients, who are the owners, so they can enjoy their dog’s presence in their lives.

Nothing in this section addresses the use of aversives, the use of negative reinforcement, positive punishment extinction, or anything else in that vein.  They are basic professional standards and could just as easily be guidelines for lawyers or bankers.

In fact, it could be right out of a template, honestly.

My complaint was very specific.  I didn’t call behaviour analysts terrible monsters who set out to destroy children’s lives.  I’m sure they do want to improve lives.  I just don’t think that they focus their goals on the child’s internal emotional experience.

I don’t think that’s an outrageous claim considering that modern ABA texts still use the “black box,” anti-mentalism stance of 1960s behaviourism.

I accused ABA of using outdated forms of behaviourism, of prioritizing “skills” over the subjective internal experience of its recipients, and I said that many of its practices and policies risk crossing the boundaries of emotional and sometimes even physical abuse.

I said, “Most of the dog trainers I know mix and match behaviourism with other cognitive science research and other methods to create a more holistic approach to training their dogs.  This is because dog trainers understand the limits of behaviourism on canines, because it doesn’t address the whole dog.”

I don’t believe that ABA recognizes the limits of behaviourism or teaches its therapists and analysts about these limits or about more modern discoveries in psychology and neuroscience.  Most behavior analysts ignore sensory processing disorder, for example, with many directly calling it pseudoscience.

You can’t convince me otherwise by listing guidelines about professional conduct regarding the person who hired you.

Section 3.0 (assessing behavior) continues to includes specific obligations behavior analysts must meet that focus on behavior analytic techniques that benefit the learner.  Items relating to this code are: 3.01(a,b) (behavior-analytics assessment), 3.02 (medical consultation), 3.03 (a,b) (behavior-analytic assessment consent), 3.04 (explaining assessment results, and 3.05 (consent-client records). 

Okay, now we’re getting out of the basic stuff and into more ABA-specific guidelines.

The section on Analytic Assessment, 3.01, is shockingly short.

Unlike the Humane Hierarchy and LIMA standards laid out by the CCPDT, this ethics code leaves quite a lot of decision-making in the analyst’s hands.

The type of assessment used is determined by client’s needs and consent, environmental parameters, and other contextual variables.

The code does not lay out what type of assessments should be used based on which needs and variables.  It’s up to the analyst to decide, and whatever they decide could be justified under this guideline.

But it does specify that they need to graph the data…  so you know, that’s something.

Regarding consent, it simply requires “the client’s” written consent.  It doesn’t specify that the learner must consent.  Remember that “the client” could mean the parent or a freaking corporation.

Now, since many of their learners are nonverbal and have not been taught or given access to AAC, or may be minors, I would be fine with that if the code made more specific distinctions between the learner and the parent, and guidelines regarding the age of consent.

Perhaps they could look toward medical paediatrics for guidelines.

But as it is written, a child or an adult could have goals set for them, rewards and punishments inflicted on them, all without their consent.

Code 4.0 (behavior analysts and the behavior-change program) also include multiple areas relating to the wellbeing of the learner.  This includes 4.02 (involving clients in planning and consent), 4.03(a,b) (individualized behavior-change programs), 4.04 (approving behavior-change programs), 4.05 (describing behavior-change program objectives, 4.06 (describing conditions for behavior-change program success), 4.07(a,b) (environmental conditions that interfere with implementation), 4.08(a-d) (considerations regarding punishment procedures), 4.09 (least restrictive procedures), 4.10 (avoiding harmful reinforcers), and 4.11(a,b) (discontinuing behavior-change programs and behavior-analytic services). 

I’m getting a little tired of these lists.

Like, I’ve read the code over several times.  Listing the titles of the subsections that I have already read doesn’t seem persuasive or useful.

You know what?

Let’s save everyone a click and just copy and paste this whole section for our readers to judge for themselves.

4.01 Conceptual Consistency. 

Behavior analysts design behavior-change programs that are conceptually consistent with behavioranalytic principles.

…Okay.

Does this rule prohibit electro-shocking a child, leaving them in isolation, ignoring them during a meltdown, forcing them to work for 40 hours a week, or stopping them from performing a soothing stim?

Nope.

4.02 Involving Clients in Planning and Consent. 

Behavior analysts involve the client in the planning of and consent for behavior-change programs. 

What do you think?  Does THAT rule prohibit electro-shocking a child, leaving them in isolation, ignoring them during a meltdown, forcing them to work for 40 hours a week, or stopping them from performing a soothing stim?

I don’t see how, considering that “the client” can mean a parent who has been told (or even court-ordered) that this step is necessary to help their child.

4.03 Individualized Behavior-Change Programs. 

(a) Behavior analysts must tailor behavior-change programs to the unique behaviors, environmental variables, assessment results, and goals of each client.  (b) Behavior analysts do not plagiarize other professionals’ behavior-change programs. 

Ah, ok, well in this case it could be wrong to electro-shock a child, leave them in isolation, ignore them during a meltdown, force them to work for 40 hours a week, or stop them from performing a soothing stim if it is a plagiarized behaviour change program from another professional.

4.04 Approving Behavior-Change Programs. 

Behavior analysts must obtain the client’s written approval of the behavior-change program before implementation or making significant modifications (e.g., change in goals, use of new procedures). 

I see, so as long as the corporation employing you signs off, it’s okay.

4.05 Describing Behavior-Change Program Objectives. 

Behavior analysts describe, in writing, the objectives of the behavior-change program to the client before attempting to implement the program.  To the extent possible, a risk-benefit analysis should be conducted on the procedures to be implemented to reach the objective.  The description of program objectives and the means by which they will be accomplished is an ongoing process throughout the duration of the client-practitioner relationship. 

This rule seems to lay out exactly how you could go about electro-shocking a child, leaving them in isolation, ignoring them, forcing them to work for 40 hours a week, or stopping them from performing a soothing stim.

You just need to have a risk-benefit analysis sheet which determines that these things are necessary to achieve the goals of the program.  If the client is a corporation then the benefit of 40 hours per week might be justifiable as compared to the risk of trauma to the developing child.

4.06 Describing Conditions for Behavior-Change Program Success. 

Behavior analysts describe to the client the environmental conditions that are necessary for the behavior-change program to be effective. 

Okay.  So as long as they say “we need an isolation room for planned ignoring” you can ignore a child.

4.07 Environmental Conditions that Interfere with Implementation. 

(a) If environmental conditions prevent implementation of a behavior-change program, behavior analysts recommend that other professional assistance (e.g., assessment, consultation or therapeutic intervention by other professionals) be sought.  (b) If environmental conditions hinder implementation of the behavior-change program, behavior analysts seek to eliminate the environmental constraints, or identify in writing the obstacles to doing so. 

My brain is doing funny things and imagining the analysts writing sternly worded letters to the weather about environmental conditions.

(No, I don’t think that’s what they mean.  Yes, I know what they mean.  No, I don’t think it prohibits potential abuse.)

4.08 Considerations Regarding Punishment Procedures. 

(a) Behavior analysts recommend reinforcement rather than punishment whenever possible.  (b) If punishment procedures are necessary, behavior analysts always include reinforcement procedures for alternative behavior in the behavior-change program.  (c) Before implementing punishment-based procedures, behavior analysts ensure that appropriate steps have been taken to implement reinforcement-based procedures unless the severity or dangerousness of the behavior necessitates immediate use of aversive procedures.  (d) Behavior analysts ensure that aversive procedures are accompanied by an increased level of training, supervision, and oversight.  Behavior analysts must evaluate the effectiveness of aversive procedures in a timely manner and modify the behavior-change program if it is ineffective.  Behavior analysts always include a plan to discontinue the use of aversive procedures when no longer needed.

There it is, in plain writing – punishment is permitted, as are aversives, as long as you have taken “appropriate steps” to implement reinforcement-based procedures and oversee the proceedings to make sure it’s working.

It would be nice to know what “appropriate steps” are.

Positive reinforcement first?  How many times?  How many different reinforcers must be tried?  What steps should be taken to ensure that this behaviour is even operantly mediated and not a reflex/something outside the learner’s control?

What about the goal involved?  What goals are worth punishment proceedings?  Which goals are not?  Or are all goals created equal?

What kinds of punishments?  What kinds of aversives?  Why is there carte blanche?

But the bigger question is, why are aversives permitted in any circumstances?

It says “if they are necessary” but it doesn’t define what situations could count as “necessary,” leaving it open to interpretation.

Reams of studies on animals (from rats to dogs to birds), as well as mountains of research on children have proven that aversives and punishments cause trauma, increase behaviour problems, raise cortisol levels, and are ineffective in the long term. 

Studies on dogs have revealed that dogs trained using punishment are more likely to develop aggressive behaviours.

In dog training, aversives include choke chains, pinch collars, unpleasant noises, unpleasant smells, spray bottles, vinegar, and electric shocks.

What kind aversives does one use on a child?

Could you spritz them with vinegar and water if they don’t say “please”?  I mean, assuming they tried reinforcement first and then decided the aversive was “necessary”?

What about negative punishment – can you deny the child food?  Love?  Free movement?  Communication boards?

What can a child be denied, and for what types of goals?

Why doesn’t this section lay out what types of punishments can be used and which cannot?

B.F.  Skinner was scornful about the use of punishment.  Any good behaviourist knows that punishment is useless in the long term.

Punishment creates avoidance of the punisher, but the organism will continue to attempt to return to the behaviour and once the punishment is discontinued, the behaviour re-emerges.

You must know this.

So why is it even permitted on human beings?

Corporal punishment, denial of basic rights like food and access to the caregiver, and even just authoriarian-style parenting are connected heavily to negative outcomes in the child’s mental health.

Long term, it has no effect.

So why aren’t those things prohibited outright – explicitly and in great detail?

Why does this section leave the analyst free to apply aversives of any type to human beings?  Free to deny basic rights like food or communication?

My SPCA AnimalKind certification prohibits me outright from using aversives.

Their certification standards are even more stringent than the CCPDT, which I used to contrast against your compliance code.  They included observing me during several training sessions, pouring through my records and standard operating procedures, and asking to see our diplomas.

I used the CCPDT’s guidelines for comparison because I didn’t think it would be fair to hold ABA to the same standards as the SPCA.

After all, everyone knows that people are much more concerned about animal welfare than human welfare.

My point is that aversives are cruel and ineffective.  I think it’s wrong that they are even used on animals let alone human children.

How dare you list this section as proof that the learner’s well-being is in any way protected?

4.09 Least Restrictive Procedures. 

Behavior analysts review and appraise the restrictiveness of procedures and always recommend the least restrictive procedures likely to be effective. 

So there’s no limit on how restrictive a procedure can be, so long as it is “likely” neccessary to be “effective,” eh?

The end justifies the means, clearly.

4.10 Avoiding Harmful Reinforcers. 

Behavior analysts minimize the use of items as potential reinforcers that may be harmful to the health and development of the client, or that may require excessive motivating operations to be effective. 

What does this even mean?

Don’t give the kid candy?

You have a section on avoiding harmful REWARDS but nothing on avoiding harmful punishments?  What if the aversives are harmful to the health and development of the client?  That’s fine, then?

Or are you discussing negative reinforcers, such as the end of pain?

In that case the reinforcement is the end of the pain, so of course that isn’t harmful but the pain sure as hell would be.  That’s what pain is – a sign of harm.

So…  say you agree to dim the lights (which are hurting the learner’s eyes and triggering a meltdown) only once the learner complies to your demand.

Sorry.  “Mand.”

Dimming the lights of course is not a harmful reinforcer so this protocol would be just fine, then?

In this case, isn’t refusing to dim the lights causing harm, because you are extending their discomfort?

Where is that covered in the compliance code?

And what if the reinforcer is something the child has a basic right to?  Like their AAC device, or their comfort-object, or their meals?  Is it okay to use those as reinforcers?

Because it shouldn’t be.

I never make a dog work for water.  I never starve a dog to get compliance.  I never force a dog to stay in a confined space if the dog is distressed.  That’s basic humane treatment and respect for the learner as an active participant and not a slave.

But I see nothing in these guidelines to stop me from doing these things to a child.

Why is it permissable within the code to make access to your AAC device contingent on behaviour?  To deprive a child of their voice because they weren’t compliant enough?

This happens regularly – many nonspeakers tell of their iPad being taken away for “misbehaviour” or “noncompliance,” and example videos on YouTube demonstrate it being done in between discrete trials.

This video, which was featured in C.L.  Lynch’s article on ABA and abuse, shows the AAC device being repeatedly removed from the child’s hands, thus depriving him of a voice except during very brief interludes.

Why is this permitted?

Why aren’t there guidelines on this?

But returning to your letter…

   In addition,  there are several overarching core ethical principles within behavior analysis, addressing universal human right concerns, including doing no harm, respecting autonomy, benefiting others, being just, being faithful, according to dignity, treating others with caring and compassion, the pursuit of excellence, and accepting accountability.  (Bailey & Burch, 2016).  It is a requirement for behavior analysts to understand these principles within the code and is essential in order to provide respect to the field of ABA services.  Additionally, six rights outlined by Van Houten et al.  1998, specify that an individual has a right to (1) a therapeutic environment, (2) services whose overriding goal is personal welfare, (3) treatment by a competent behavior analyst, (4) programs that teach functional skills, (5) behavioral assessment and ongoing evaluation, and (6) the most effective treatment procedures available.  The importance of these rights described by Van Houten et al.  1988 is that “the field of behavior analysis acknowledges its responsibilities by reaffirming its concern for individual welfare and by prescribing the means by which behavioral treatment can be delivered in the most beneficial manner (pp.  384).” Additionally, Van Houten et al.  assessed both the ethical and appropriate application of behavior analytic treatment of clients’ rights. 

Okay.

Then please explain to me how it is possible that the BCBAs who starve and electrocute people at the Judge Rotenberg Center are not only still members in good standing but are even invited to speak at ABAI conferences.

In my article, The Shocking Truth About ABA, Autism and Abuse, I quoted an inmate of that center.

“I got shocked for tic like body movements, for which I have no control over, and which don’t hurt me or anybody else.  I would be shocked for waving my hand in front of my face for more than 5 seconds, for closing my ears with my fingers, which I do when things get too loud, because I cannot tolerate too much noise.”

Judge Rotenberg Survivor Letter

If your ethics code ensures a therapeutic environment where the rights of the learner are prioritized, how is it possible that the people who did this are not only members in good standing, but being invited to speak at ABA conferences?

To speak on ethics of all things?

Why isn’t there an outcry among other BCBAs?  Why aren’t you fighting to have this kind of thing condemned?

Why are you, instead, arguing with a dog trainer on the internet about whether or not the existing Code is acceptable?

Can’t you see that it is not, if children can be shocked for covering their ears without the analyst losing their credentials?

The fact is, ABA believes that the end justifies the means.  If you can point to a graph that shows incidences of a behaviour going down, you can justify electrocuting a helpless human being under your care.

But that doesn’t mean the person feels they have been helped.

It doesn’t ensure that if the learners beg you to stop, that you will stop.

Any number of atrocities could be performed in the name of ABA so long as it is documented, graphed, and approved by someone – not necessarily the learner.

When discussing the history of applied behavior analysis, we understand Millman’s concerns regarding the negative aspects of treatments used at the beginning of our field in the mid-1960s.  However, it must be noted that although the history of our field included treatments that are not viewed as acceptable today, we created a code of Ethics to prevent behavior analysts’ implementation of unethical treatments.  As Bailey and Burch (2016) noted, the evolution of our code of Ethics has put in place all the necessary elements of control and management to minimize future abuses.  It is important to understand that the field of ABA has moved forward from those earlier times with questionable ethics. 

The Judge Rotenberg Center is still in operation.

This is not old news.  This is current events.  They are starving people, electrocuting people, scarring people, and they are being invited to conferences.

Don’t tell me the days of Lovaas are over when members in good standing are still pulling the same old tricks.

Don’t tell me that your code of Ethics has put in place all the necessary elements to minimize abuses when your same code of ethics allows this:

“My meals came to the classroom cut into tiny pieces and divided into portions inside of a little plastic cup.  Every time I had one of these little behaviors, it forced me to stand up and throw one cup away.  There were many days I would lose most of my meals.  And the hungrier I got, the more frantic and restless my body became.  This caused me to have more behaviors like tics and rocking, and in turn I would lose more food.” 

Judge Rotenberg Center Survivor Letter

Despite some negative aspects of the history of our field, one cannot ignore the positives that have come from the past.  For instance, one of our founding fathers, B.F.  Skinner, won the Humanist Award in 1972.  Then, Skinner wrote “…If Humanism meant nothing more than the maximizing of personal freedom and dignity, then I was not a Humanist.  If it meant trying to save the human species, then I was (Skinner, 1983, pp.  343).” Additionally, Skinner’s primary concern was independence of the individual, from the usual negative contingencies incorporated by the culture’s institutions and customs.  We continue to share that goal today.

I’m a fan of Skinner, personally, and I think he’d think your code of ethics is garbage.  Sorry.

He was against punishment because he knew how utterly useless it is.

Severe punishment unquestionably has an immediate effect in reducing a tendency to act in a given way.  This result is no doubt responsible for its widespread use.  We ‘instinctively’ attack anyone whose behavior displeases us – perhaps not in physical assault, but with criticism, disapproval, blame, or ridicule. 

Whether or not there is an inherited tendency to do this, the immediate effect of the practice is reinforcing enough to explain its currency.  In the long run, however, punishment does not actually eliminate behavior from a repertoire, and its temporary achievement is obtained at tremendous cost in reducing the over-all efficiency and happiness of the group.

B.F.  Skinner

Given Skinner’s stance on punishment, once again I want to express amazement that your code of ethics even permits its use in any context whatsoever.

The treatment of humans through ABA services was addressed in a comment by Millman to Pakutz’s article, which stated “If you truly care about autistic people, then instead of defending a very loose code of conduct which allows therapists to do things like this: TW: Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), electric shock, abuse…As you can see, several of the board members at the JRC are certified by the BCBA (Millman, 2019).” It is important to note that JRC does not represent our entire field, just as cases of animal abuse in your field does not discredit the entire field because of a few cases of animal abuse. 

Oh no no no.

No no no no no no.

You can’t point to the JRC and compare it to “a few cases of animal abuse.”

We aren’t talking about some rogue people claiming to be analysts just because they watched The Autist Whisperer on NatGeoWild.

The analysts at the JRC are educated in ABA and are certificants in good standing.

They are being invited to speak at conferences.

I guarantee you that if the CCPDT, or the BCSPCA -both bodies who have certified me and my methods- found out that I was routinely electrocuting dogs or starving them into good behaviour, I would not be a member in good standing.

I would be out on my ass.

They would publish my name on their website along with the reason for my decertification.

I would 100% not be permitted to speak at one of their conferences.

Additionally, in response to Millman’s comment on JRC’s use of shock therapy, it is noteworthy to point out that the majority of our field does not accept the use of punishment and it is only used as a last resort procedure (Bailey & Burch, 2016).  We understand Millman’s concern that members from JRC presented at the Association for Behavior Analysis International’s (ABAI) convention.  Although this is true, it should be emphasized that a panel in our field protested JRC at our most recent conference in Chicago last month, to renounce shock torture as part of treatment. 

Okay, so the entire population of BCBAs don’t like the idea of shocking people.

That’s good.  The analysts who protested get a click and a treat.

Were you one of them?

But it doesn’t change the fact that it is permitted.

Either your code of conduct permits these abuses…  or it does not.

Either your code of conduct is sufficient…  or it is not.

The dog trainers who shock their dogs, use outdated “dominance” nonsense, or end up in court because they helicoptered a dog and broke its spine, are not certificants of the CCPDT.

In fact, even though the CCPDT has made it virtually impossible to use aversives on a dog through their guidelines and have published a position statement on shock as an aversive threatening dire consequences, many people are unhappy that it is even hypothetically permissible and I predict this will change in the near future.

If you were against shock, you’d be saying “you’re right, it shouldn’t be permissible, this compliance code needs improvement.”

Worse – the fact that the code permits it and that the BCBAs who practise it are still members in good standing is directly responsible for the continued existence of that facility.

That makes them not just accepting but complicit.

The judge who heard the case against it decided in favour of the JRC because it was made clear that the electric shocks “conform to the accepted standard of care for treating individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

Speaking as someone with a diagnosed neurodevelopmental disability, I’m extremely unhappy about this.

All of those sections you quoted at me are totally useless if they cannot protect someone from being shocked or starved because they made a noise or fidgeted too much.

All of those sections are totally useless if they result in “level III aversives” being upheld in state court because they “conform” to “accepted standards of care.”

I’m sorry that I’m holding your association to high standards – like the standards used by multiple certifying bodies for people who work with animals – but the certifying bodies have a duty of care to the learners, and if they are accepting procedures which are described as torture by the United Nations, then they are not doing their job.

If it isn’t okay to shock a traitorous spy into compliance, it isn’t okay to do it to someone with an intellectual disability.

You can’t say that the association is protecting children because MOST analysts wouldn’t abuse children.  It shouldn’t be left up to the individual analyst’s conscience.

That’s anarchy, not regulation.

Either your field is closely regulated, tightly controlled, and based on up-to-date science surrounding psychology or it isn’t, and analysts are free to do whatever they like so long as they mind their p’s and q’s and can produce justifications for their actions.

…So which is it?

And yes, I point to the JRC as an extreme example of the kinds of abuses which are permitted under your Compliance Code, but it needn’t be anything so extreme.

Mundane everyday abuse occurs in the name of ABA all over the world every day, because individual analysts are given the power to make their own decisions regarding negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and goal-setting without any strict controls or definitive guidelines.

Questions like, “Is it okay to force a child to remain in the painful situation (be it grocery store, loud environment, hands being ,whatever it might be) until they comply to avoid reinforcing negative behavior?”  should not be left up to the individual analyst.

That leaves them open to deciding that the answer is yes, in which case they are enforcing pain on a child for the sake of teaching them to shut up and be quiet.

That’s not prioritizing the child’s welfare.  It is causing harm.

If an analyst can justify causing harm in the name of negative reinforcement, then the compliance code prioritizes arbitrary goals over wellbeing of the learner.

It’s that simple.

If a dog is becoming distressed and howls in his crate for hours on end, I recommend letting the dog out.

Is that reinforcing the howling?  Sure.  But the dog is clearly distressed, and that comes first.

If I put this dog into a situation he wasn’t ready to handle, that’s on ME.  He isn’t howling because he’s a bad dog.  He’s howling because I messed up.

I am a skilled enough trainer that I can get that dog back in the crate and being quiet without risking building a trauma history.

And if he really hates it that much?  We’ll find a different solution to our problem – one that doesn’t require a crate.

That decision isn’t left up to me and my conscience, either.

Allowing a dog to howl and cry in its crate until it stops, come what may, would be negative reinforcement/extinction (depending on the protocol) which is marked by a big yellow caution sign.

I can’t do that until I have first been through four other steps, by which time I would definitely have that dog comfortable in the crate.

I’m not so limited in skill and imagination that I could ever justify confining a crying, howling dog at all costs.  I’ll let a tired, sleepy puppy whine for a few minutes before falling asleep.  That’s it.

And yet how many autistic people remember being locked in a room to cry and howl for hours?

Too many.

And they were the lucky ones, because at least they didn’t have aversives used on them.

Questions like, “Is it appropriate to remove the iPad he uses to communicate as a result of misbehaviour?”  should also not be left up to the individual analyst.

You are removing a child’s voice.  That is denying basic human rights.

I never deny a dog their basic rights.

They always have water.  They are always welcome to leave the situation if they need to.

My learners participate voluntarily, and if they have something to say, then I don’t punish them.  Sometimes they get excited or frustrated and need to yap.  Or they get scared and need to snarl and growl.  I let them have their say and then ask if they want to go back to work.

If they don’t, then we discontinue and just share treats and cuddles.  Does that reward the avoidant behaviour?  Maybe.  But that’s not my biggest priority.

In addition, we take exception with Millman’s misconception of ABA’s use of punishment in the field, since most of our field does not accept the use of punishment.  Millman’s statement that “the use of ignoring to punish a child, which is actually a commonly recommended strategy in ABA,” is not accurate.  Subsection 4.08 (considerations regarding punishment procedures) in the BACB professional and ethical compliance code specifies that (a) behavior analysts recommend reinforcement rather than punishment whenever possible, (b) if punishment procedures are necessary, behavior analysts always include reinforcement procedures for alternative behavior in the behavior-change program, (c) before implementing punishment-based procedures, behavior analysts ensure that appropriate steps have been taken to implement reinforcement-based procedures unless the severity or dangerousness of the behavior necessitates immediate use of aversive procedures, and (d) Behavior analysts ensure that aversive procedures are accompanied by an increased level of training, supervision, and oversight.  Behavior analysts must evaluate the effectiveness of aversive procedures in a timely manner and modify the behavior-change program if it is ineffective.  Behavior analysts always include a plan to discontinue the use of aversive procedures when no longer needed.  Behavior analysts always include a plan to discontinue the use of aversive procedures when no longer needed(BACB, 2019, pp.  12-13)”. 

Okay, well, first of all, your code mentions nothing about extinction.  Second of all, telling me what the code says doesn’t prove that this practice is, in fact, uncommon.

Are you really claiming that ignoring is not a common tactic in ABA?

Do you want all of the autistic people who were subjected to it or have witnessed it to tell you about their experiences in the comment section?

If I poll ABA therapists in my area, will they all tell me that ignoring is never or very rarely done?

…Or will they tell me something else?

Because I’ve got to tell you, I’ve read ABA texts and they describe the use of extinction through ignoring pretty regularly, and there were no pretty graphics showing yellow caution signs either.

It is well established that punishment may produce troublesome side effects (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007, pp.  336-338), and other strategies should almost always be used first.  However, there may be some life-threatening situations in which punishment as a first option would be necessary, but these are extremely rare.  It should be clear that if punishment procedures are necessary, the behavior analyst must first conduct a functional assessment, to identify controlling variables, and if alternative behaviors are identified, then reinforcers for these behaviors probably can be found as well.  Finally, an ethical behavior analyst will always consider the possibility of medical or biological factors that may elicit dangerous behaviors.  In sum, we strive to avoid using punishment at all costs. 

We have a saying in dog training – “More skill means less force.”  The need to apply force and positive punishment (aversives) is a flag that the trainer is unskilled.

A skilled trainer never needs to use force, because they know how to correctly diagnose an issue and correct it.

Recently, a dog trainer near me made the news for repeatedly punching a dog in the head.  Do you know what his own vet said?

“Punching and holding a dog to the ground is sometimes necessary.”

This is an animal professional who thinks that punching a dog in the head is “sometimes necessary.”  What that really means is that he doesn’t know any other way.

I do.

I know a lot of other ways.

That’s why I’m a certified dog trainer, and he is not.

The number of other, more scientifically valid as well as humane, ways could – and do – fill several books.

But you shouldn’t be leaving something like this up to the individual skill of the analyst.  Once again, the compliance code should lay out clearly exactly which steps must be tried first and in what order.  It must define what “necessary” means.

What goals are worth punishment to achieve?  What goals are not best achieved through more effective and more humane tactics?

Very few, if any, in my mind.

In regard to subsection 4.09, Millman stated that we “use the least restrictive procedures necessary.  This is meaningless, however, because it does not define what is considered “restrictive” or layout a clear guideline on this.” We would like to provide a definition to provide a clearer guideline on the use of restrictive procedures.  Bailey and Burch (2016) define a restrictive procedure as “a practice that limits an individual’s movement, activity or function; interferes with an individual’s ability to acquire positive reinforcement; results in the loss of objects or activities that an individual values; or requires an individual to engage in given freedom of choice (Bailey and Burch, 2016, pp.135).”  This code directs behavior analysts to first use the least restrictive methods that do not interfere with the client’s ability to contact reinforcers and provides the client freedom of choice.

But my point is that it doesn’t provide clear guidelines.

Where is the line drawn in the sand?  Is it okay to physically restrain a child?  Using which types of holds?  How about tying the child?  Straight jackets?  Grabbing the hands and folding them into their lap?

Is it okay to tie them?  Lock them up?  Why are there no hard-and-fast guidelines regarding what is acceptable and what is not?

I don’t want to hear that it is better not to tie a child up.  I want to hear that it is forbidden to tie a child up.

A certain amount of Googling with just the right keywords helped me dig up a position statment from ABA International on restraint.

At first blush it looks okay.

ABAI is opposed to the use of seclusion when it is operationally defined as placing someone in a locked room, often combined with the use of mechanical restraint and/or sedation….

ABA International Positions and Policies

That sounds good…

…and not part of a formal Behavior Intervention Plan to which the individual served and/or their Guardians have consented. 

ABA International Positions and Policies

Wait.

Seclusion is operationally defined only as something that is NOT part of a formal Behaviour Intervention Plan?  So…  if it IS, and the guardian consented…  then it isn’t seclusion?  And the guardian can be a foster parent, or social services, and the child can be a victim of trauma and abuse?

Interesting.

The use of restraint in a planned Behavior Intervention Plan is done as part of an integrated effort to reduce the future probability of a specified target behavior and/or to reduce the episodic severity of that behavior.  A Behavior Intervention Plan that incorporates contingent restraint must a) incorporate reinforcement based procedures, b) be based on a functional behavior assessment, c) be evaluated by objective outcome data, and d) be consistent with the scientific literature and current best practices.

Max Benson DIED.  Restraints can KILL.  And yet ABAI’s position statement is that it is fine so long as it is part of an integrated effort to reduce the probability of a target behaviour.

What kind of behaviour?  Any?

ABAI’s position statement is more of the same vague wishy-washy nonsense you find in the BACB’s compliance code – as long as you include reinforcement and have a Plan and it is Necessary and it’s consistent with Best Practices but we won’t say what Best Practices are…

“Less is better” isn’t enough.

“Consistent with scientific findings” isn’t enough.

Anti-vaxxers have research articles to point to justify what they do.  Something being effective doesn’t mean that it is healthy for development or self-esteem.

Once again, too much is left to the discretion of the analyst.  Trust them to know what the safest restraint methods are, trust them to know when it is justifiable to restrain a human being…

In relation to the treatment of individuals, Millman wrote: “As long as the aversive procedure is effective and accompanied with training and supervision, under the ABA model you could hypothetically do anything.” To clarify this misconception, similar to the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) standards of Practice and Code of Ethics Policy, our code also abstains from representing training and behavioral information as scientific, unless it is derived from peer-reviewed and published research.  Specifically, subsection 1.01 in the BACB code of ethics specifies that behavior analysts must rely on professionally derived knowledge based on science and behavior analysis when making scientific or professional judgments in human service provision, or when engaging in scholarly or professional endeavors.  Similar to the CCPDT, our treatments must be based on scientific findings. 

Scientific findings about what?  And by whom?  Because peer-reviewed studies on small sample sizes or single case design, and performed by behavior analysts who do not declare conflict of interest, is at odds with the rest of the scientific community and with the autistic community.  Further, these studies are based on measurements of behavior, not of emotional impact of the antecedents on those behaviors. 

What does the science have to prove?

Someone could hold up a study showing that denying a child their iPad improves their behaviour and that would back them up, right?

Science-based.  It works.  It is proven.

Watson’s Little Albert experiment was very successful scientifically speaking.  And yet it has become a by-word in science ethics, right up there with Milgrim.

Are your BCBAs required to have doctorates in the philosophy of ethics, that you allow them to make choices with such ethical risks without strict guidelines?

Why else would you leave the choices up to them?

A body of research proving that punishing a behaviour reduces the behaviour won’t ensure that the child is not psychologically harmed.  It won’t prove that it is an ethical choice.

It doesn’t ensure that the child’s best interests have been considered in this particular circumstance.

As far as I can tell there is very little science regarding the emotional impact of ABA on the learner.  All of the science is focused on the target behaviours.

Guess what?  Practising behaviourism on an organism changes their behaviour!  This is not news!  You don’t need a ton of studies on this!  We’ve known this for a hundred years!

I contest that many ABA practices specifically defy scientific findings. 

For example, studies of autistic adults shows that “camoflaging” (behaving in such a way as to hide our autism, such as making deliberate eye contact, suppressing stims, etc.) is strongly correlated with suicidality.

And yet eye contact and stim suppression commonly appear as goals in ABA.  Dr Zane, you, yourself have written about the importance of teaching imitation to autistic children.

Imitation is the foundation of many different kinds of skills, is an extension of the social responsiveness response class, and is also a social navigation skill once it becomes a response class (Kleeberger & Mirenda, 2010).  In other words, imitation can be used to problem-solve; a student unsure of what to do can refer to peers and follow their lead.  However, the primary importance of imitation training is that it allows for the teaching of important skills including toy play, functional use of objects, and critical social skills. 

Weiss and Zane, 2010

But now we know that imitating non-autistic behaviour is psychologically damaging in the long term and leads to increased suicide risk.

And don’t try to tell me this is pseudoscience.

Simon Baron-Cohen himself was involved in several of the studies which found this.  It led to him recanting much of what he had previously said about autism and he now tweets about the importance of autism acceptance because he realized people were dying.

Camouflaging significantly predicted suicidality in the ASC group, after controlling for age, sex, presence of at least one developmental condition, depression, anxiety, employment, and satisfaction with living arrangements…..  Camouflaging also explained significant additional variance in suicidality above depression or anxiety, suggesting that the association with suicidality is, at least in part, independent of mental health.   

Risk markers for suicidality in autistic adults Ahmad Abu-AkelCarrie AllisonSimon Baron-Cohen & Dietmar Heinke 

“In the short term, camouflaging results in extreme exhaustion and anxiety; although the aims of camouflaging are often achieved, in the long-term there are also severe negative consequences affecting individuals’ mental health, self-perception, and access to support.” 

Laura Hull, K. V. Petrides, Carrie Allison, Paula Smith, Simon Baron-Cohen,Meng-Chuan Lai,William Mandy

So, since there is scientific evidence that forcing autistic people to mask their autism by suppressing stims, making eye contact, and engaging in scripted conversation increases risk of suicidality, does that mean that those things are prohibited in ABA?

Are analysts everywhere expressing horror at the realization that they have been promoting psychologically damaging behaviour for years?

Will ABA therapists lose their good standing if they engage in behaviour programs which aim to build NT social skills, thus teaching and conditioning the child to camouflage?

Yes?

No?

And what about learned helplessness?

It is very easy for a desensitization program to stray into learned helplessness, for example.

Behaviourally, it would be difficult to tell the difference between learned helplessness and habituation and desensitization.

If a child is repeatedly exposed to a noise, and over time displays fewer behavioural responses, then is that due to learned helplessness or desensitization?

It’s an important question, because there is scientific evidence that autistic people do not habituate or desensitize to certain kinds of stimuli, such as auditory stimuli, the way non-autistic people do.

https://www.nature.com/articles/srep16157#Sec3

If repeatedly exposing a child to a noise does not result in habituation, you could easily stray into learned helplessness, where the child no longer attempts to escape the noise but continues to experience discomfort.

Learned helplessness is a scientifically valid method of getting compliance, such that it is used in torture to extract information from spies.

So…  is desensitization with regards to auditory imput considered unacceptable by the BACB?  Is it considered wrong to use extinction due to the risk of learned helplessness?

Is learned helplessness discouraged at all?

Even if it is, what if the BCBA running the experiment hasn’t read this particular article on habituation, or others regarding the malformation of the auditory perception neurons in autistic brains?

How about metadata studies on autistic children which indicate that the “learning to learn” position, involving eye contact, being seated knee-to-knee with the instructor etc is counterproductive to learning?

What about the fact that ABA still uses Skinner’s book, Verbal Behaviour, fifty years after Noam Chomsky obliterated it in his scathing review, thus inaugerating cognitive revolution?

You see, ultimately, we cannot agree about whether your ethics code protects its learners because we do not share the same priorities, and there is plenty of science to back up both of our points of view.

In your eyes, if a child learns to make eye contact and speak, then the program has been successful.  You can graph it and publish it and declare it scientifically valid.

In my eyes, it may have been abusive and harmful.

We can both be right.

Every ABA research paper I have read indicates that ABA is proven to work because it achieves its goals.

What isn’t proven is whether its goals are worth attaining, or at what cost.

I mean, shooting someone in the head is a scientifically valid and proven strategy…  if your target goal is a dead body.

The goals matter.

The validity of the goal, not just the efficacy of the tool, is in question here, as well as the length to which you are willing to go to achieve those goals.

On this note, Millman’s comment, “I wouldn’t treat a dog that way.” is a conflicting point, considering the fact that there are several articles published in peer-reviewed journals that utilize ABA techniques focusing on dog training that aligns with the CCPDT’s guidelines.  The CCPDT’s policy also lays out the “Humane Hierarchy”, which advises the methods with which to start.  Though not specifically outlined, ABA has a similar procedure, just not detailed in specific steps.  Like your policy, our code specifies that we address all possible methods until specific methods (such as punishment) are only acceptable as a last resort. 

It’s disingenuous to pretend that I was criticizing the use of operant conditioning (what you call “ABA techniques” as if ABA came first) when I stated multiple times in my article that I use operant conditioning daily in my work.

My problem is not that you employ operant conditioning.  My problem is how you use it, and how you regulate it.  Or don’t regulate it, to be more accurate.

I was criticizing the types of goals that are frequently chosen for ABA, the narrow-mindedness of using operant conditioning outside of a holistic context given decades of research on child psychology and development since the rise and fall of behaviourism, and the poorly written ethics code which permits (and has justified in court) both physical and emotional abuse.

So far your letter has done nothing to counter my claims.

You have not demonstrated any effort on behalf of the ABA field to ensure that stimming is permitted, that planned ignoring is forbidden, that standard goals and protocols have been changed to avoid camouflaging, or that ABA therapists who employ abusive practices such as isolation or physical punishment are disciplined and made examples of by the certifying body.

Millman stated concern that our field does not take into account the emotions of individuals.  We disagree.   The well-being of our clients permeates our ethical code.  Our field does care.  For instance, treatments in ABA target behaviors that maximize reinforcement and independence, both of which support emotional health.  We do not deny that emotions occur.   ABA does, in fact, care about the wellbeing of our clients.  Millman wrote, “Dog trainers understand that dogs need to chew and bark and dig, but ABA therapists don’t understand that autistic children need to repeat words and sentences, flap their hands, and sit quietly rocking in a corner when things get too much.” Our treatments are based on the client’s needs.  That is, parents may request that this be part of the intervention, but if self-stimulatory behavior is not a concern of the client’s caregiver and/or does not impede the client’s learning, it is not a focus of their treatment. 

“We don’t interfere with it as long as the parent doesn’t mind it, and it doesn’t get in our way,” is a VERY different thing from “We refuse to do it even if the parent requests it because we are mindful of the research demonstrating that stimming is emotionally beneficial and important to autistic wellbeing.”

Surely you can see that?

I don’t think it’s enough to say that you don’t abuse the child unless the parent requests it.

I don’t think it’s enough to say that you don’t interfere with the child’s coping mechanisms unless it interferes with your goals – goals which themselves are questionable and may lead to the child committing suicide some day.

I don’t think it’s enough to say that you would only teach the child camouflaging at the cost of their mental health if it maximizes reinforcement and independence.

All of these caveats are just excuses.

I would refuse to stop a dog from digging entirely.  I would tell the clients to provide the dog with an appropriate digging location.

I could not give the dog electric shocks for doing it, because before I could, I’d have to refer to the dog to someone else – someone more skilled.

It says so in my ethics code.

While e-collars are there, at the bottom of the list, they come after referring the dog to other professionals, so how could I ever actually do it?

It is not openly banned but it is made virtually impossible to do.

Which I like.

I also voluntarily sought certification through the BCSPCA’s AnimalKind program which does outright prohibit me from using shock collars and I think that’s just great because I wouldn’t anyway.

In a decade of training I have never had to shock a dog to achieve my goals.

Part of that is because I am skilled at my job.  The other part of that is that I consider very few goals worth hurting an animal in order to achieve.

In some instances, such as hand flapping, it’s not important to address stimming, but some cases of stimming may be harmful or interfere with a person’s daily living, however.  For instance, behaviors such as head banging, picking at the skin until it bleeds, pinching, or hitting oneself are instances of behaviors that require immediate intervention.

Tell me that by “it’s not important to address stimming” you meant to say “it is important not to impede stimming.”

Because those are very different things.

If you care so much about the wellbeing of your learner, why would you ever interfere with something like flapping?  That’s like punishing smiling or crying.

Why aren’t there specific codes against interfering against behaviours that are not only not harmful but important, communicative, and beneficial?

As for harmful behaviours, by all means intervene, although in my experience situations like that are most easily dealt with outside the realm of behaviourism.

Introducing harmful behaviours to this discussion is a straw man argument because at no point in my article did I say that I would allow a dog to pluck its tail bald.

If someone wrote an article criticizing dog trainers for discouraging digging behaviour, I wouldn’t storm in and say, “But what if they’re plucking their tail fur?” 

(Not the least because they’d wisely answer that the dog might not be plucking its tail bald to begin with if it had been allowed to damn well dig.)

Nevertheless, I should point out that I would also never punish a dog for plucking its tail.

This behaviour is usually a result of either OCD, in which case punishment is inappropriate, lack of enrichment, in which case punishment is inappropriate, neurological problems, in which case punishment is inappropriate, and so on.

Punishment, in the animal world, is considered useless and harmful when it comes to dealing with self-harming behaviours.  I wonder why it isn’t with humans?

If stimming is part of the treatment, then behavior analysts will identify alternative means to find a replacement behavior.  We agree with Millman that there are times that children may function better if they are allowed to stim.

“May function better?”  Jesus H.  Merciful.  They’re not machines.  They’re human beings.  For heaven’s sake, speak about them like they are people.

Here are some things you could have said instead of “function better”:

  • “Be happier”
  • “Be more fulfilled”
  • “Have better quality of life”
  • “Feel more relaxed”
  • “suffer less anxiety”

You don’t deny that people have emotions but you refuse to refer to them when discussing treating them.

That’s a problem.

You need to remember the mental state of your patients.  You cannot practise outdated anti-mentalism behaviourism and still talk about science.

It’s like using Galen as a medical text.

Science has moved on from pure behaviourism.  It now belongs on the shelf with many many other tools and should used only in context with other aspects of child psychology and cognitive science.

And you’re hearing that from someone who employs behaviourism daily in her work.

It is our hope that our response is useful in clarifying some aspects of behavior analysis that Millman seems to misunderstand.  We suggest that her view of behavior analysis is outdated.  The ethical guidelines within ABA and CCPDT have strikingly similar guidelines.  It is our hope that these clarifications on our code allow one to see the similarities between our fields, with the primary focus of the wellbeing of our respective clients and hope that this article cleared up misconceptions about the field of Applied Behavior Analysis. 

References

Bacb.com.  (2019).  Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts.  [online] Available at: https://bacb.com/ethics/.

Bailey, J., & Burch, M.  (2016).  Ethics for Behavior Analysts, 3rd Edition.  Florence: Taylor and Francis.

Carol Millman.  (2019, April 9).  Re: Is ABA Really “Dog Training for Children”?  A Professional Dog Trainer Weighs In.  [Web log comment].  Retrieved from https://theaspergian.com.

Cooper, J.  O., Heron, T.  E., & Heward W.  L.  (2007).  Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.).  Upper

Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.

Millman, C.  (2019, March 27).  Is ABA Really “Dog Training for Children”?  A Professional Dog Trainer Weighs In.  [Web log post].  Retrieved from https://theaspergian.com.

Skinner, B.  F.  (1983).  A matter of consequences.  New York: Knopf.

Van Houten, R., Axelrod, S., Bailey, J.  S., Favell, J.  E., Foxx, R.  M., Iwata, B.  A., & Lovaas, O.

I.  (1988).  The right to effective behavioral treatment.  Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 21(4), 381-384.

No, I’m afraid you haven’t really cleared anything up.

You’ve only demonstrated your complete lack of understanding of the nature of my concerns with ABA.

If indeed you have moved on from the 1960s as you claim, then modern textbooks should contain up-to-date information on mentalism, cognitive psychology, and emotional states.

They don’t.

ABA techniques when applied to children should include requirements regarding respecting the mental health of the child according to the latest research.

They don’t.

Your ethics guidelines should clearly and unequivocally prohibit the use of corporal punishment of any type, the use of any known technique known to cause physical and psychological harm including restraint, isolation, loss of adult attention etc for any reason.

They don’t.

Your ethics guidelines should clearly and unequivocally prohibit applying operant conditioning onto reflexive behaviours such as tics and stims.

They don’t.

It’s not enough to say that ABA can be beneficial when it is practised appropriately.

Because what I want to know is why it is possible and permissible to practise it inappropriately?

Why isn’t ABA recognizing the research on the psychological harm caused by camouflaging, the existence of motor challenges which may result in the client being unable to complete the goals set by the therapist, and why is it insisting on authoritarian techniques which have long since fallen by the wayside in child psychology due to scientific consensus?

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I am still firmly convinced that ABA sets goals which do not take into account the emotional wellbeing of the recipient, do not account for research on child psychology regarding the uses of didactic and authoritarian parenting techniques, and ignores cognitive science developed since the hey-day of behaviourism.

I don’t believe that ABA therapists set out to abuse their clients.

But they do and it happens daily.

If you truly want that to change, then stop arguing with autistic dog trainers and start writing letters to the powers that be.

Carol Millman

Carol Millman has a degree in Psychology, a diploma in animal health technology, and a diagnosis of autism. She is a self-employed dog trainer who specializes in training assistance dogs.

4 Comments

  1. Aaaaaand the BCBAs just further “reinforced” that ABA is rotten at its core.

    Great work as always, Carol.

  2. I am a certified dog trainer.  I am also likely autistic and have a 3 yo son who definitely is.  I did ABA with abused dogs and my own dog early on not knowing better.  It is rotten, was so horrible on my dog emotionally I could visibly see it.  I left that, promised to never do that again or work with that trainer.  Then I went to a trainer who incorporated the emotional well being of the dog into her training.  Then I found another trainer’s material who said it’s the source of all your training.  Then I got a dog who we had to reward when he just sat in the group circle well because all he wanted to do was play (adhd dog probably if that exists) ….  aba no Bueno for sure.  I always ask myself does this allow processing, swimming, breaks, etc.  for me, my son and my dogs in all we do.

    And I appreciate the response, showing research and explanation. 

  3. Well done!


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